Late last autumn I had the privilege of hosting a group of intrepid Quest travellers on our inaugural tour of India’s Northwest region. I was very excited about this tour for what it would offer. Comprised of the states of Rajasthan and the diverse but little-visited Gujarat, this region is overall more diverse than the centre of country where our Quest travellers have ventured many times previously.

With habitats spanning the gamut of sand dunes, salt flats, scrub woodland, bona fide forest, village ponds, grassy plains and rocky escarpments, it promised an opportunity to see some the wildlife for which India is widely celebrated (such as its tigers) in addition to a more peculiar complement of regional nature. We enjoyed many notable highlights on tour but one of our universally popular ones was our stop at Khichan, the “town of cranes”. This sleepy village set among sand dunes in Rajasthan plays host to thousands of Demoiselle Cranes that overwinter in the region. For decades, the cranes have come right into the town’s centre to feed on a twice-daily gift of grain. Such is the devotion afforded to the cranes that a walled/fenced plot of nearly an acre in size was set up to protect them and their food from dogs and cattle.

We visited the plot on a crisp morning. Arriving before sunrise, we were greeted warmly by a family whose home adjoins the plot. We climbed steps through the centre of their house and up onto a lovely rooftop terrace from which we had a clear view of the yet-vacant feeding plot where grain had been laid in rows for the impending morning visit. We waited, watched and listened.

Demoiselle Crane Khichan India

After a little time, we discerned the distant bugling calls of cranes coming from the north and slowly they streamed in and right overhead in lines and V-formations. The sound of their bugling calls is resonant and penetrating…the sensation it creates borders the indescribable!

Despite their very close passes, the cranes didn’t land in the plot immediately. One brave (hungry?) bird needed to land in the plot first to assure the others that the ‘coast is clear’. Once that bird landed, others started to trickle in and then the multitude followed suit! This was a spectacle of nature to stir the soul!

Demoiselle Cranes are the most diminutive of the world’s 15 crane species but one would have a difficult time believing that while watching them owing to their regal appearance and their broad wings. Gradually the raucous mass of cranes settled in and quieted down to feed as more continue to stream in and land, and the plot slowly filled with more and more birds.

Demoiselle Crane Khichan India

It was an inspiring time that was made all the more special but our gracious hosts who provided us with two servings of hot home-made chai while we watched the cranes. The chai was the best we would have during the whole trip!

I have a strong personal connection to India where my matrilineal roots lie, and I’m admittedly biased about the country. I do nonetheless believe [strongly] that anyone who loves wildlife and wild spaces should seriously consider a tour to India… whether a one-time tour or for a repeat visit. I plan to return to this region in early 2018. We will watch Demoiselle Cranes and look for much more. I am thrilled to be leading our next India nature tour for February and March of 2018. I encourage you to learn more about the tour by clicking here!

Demoiselle Crane Khichan India